Ink-Stained Scribe

Idleness Drives Me Nuts

Last week I wrote a post in which  I discussed the sacrifices we often make in order to find time to write. If you're like me, you've got a plethora of interests that go on hold so you can get that next scene done, so it should be no surprise that one of the most frustrating things to me is idleness. Wasted time. Time when I'm doing nothing and I could be doing something.

Raven and I went shopping for costume and apartment goods over tax-free weekend, and when we parted ways we said, "Have a productive day!" That earned us a WTH look from the family getting into the car nearby.

Raven and I are a lot alike. We get more satisfaction from producing and creating than from relaxing. At any given moment, we need to be doing something. Boredom is the worst feeling in the world and tends to creat symptoms resulting in the need for Hagen Daaz and hard liquor. So to us, saying "have a productive day" is the equivalent of saying "have a good day" with a little more specificity. We know each other well enough that we can be more specific without it seeming unusual.

I go a long way to avoid EVER coming face-to-face with boredom. My purse is effing hilarious, because I'm one of those people that always has either a purse AND a tote, or a bag large enough to fit a rottweiler. My terror of idleness fused with the ugly face of creative indecision (and a pathological need to buy notebooks) has led to a habit of carrying around far more "stuff" than I need.

This is just what I take to WORK: a novel, notecards, two notebooks,
two pens, post-it notes, an eraser (but no pencil), makeup, a wallet, hand cream,
my iPhone, a mirror, and a monokuro-boo pouch. Work, y'all. Why do I need this?

As long as I have tools of creativity, I'm never bored. Now, there are times when I simply feel like doing soemting relaxing, but I've almost always got something going on. I listened to The Dead Robots Society and I Should Be Writing as I got my nails done. I use my commutes to catch up on other podcasts, or to read, or to listen to music in a playlist for whatever stories I'm brainstorming. While grocery shopping, doing housework, making costumes, and cooking I usually listen to audiobooks, podcasts, or music if I'm not talking with Skrybbi or Raven.

If there's one thing that irks me more than anything else, it's enforced idleness. Remember being in school and finishing your work before other kids? It always bugged me that I couldn't read whatever book I had in my backpack. Now I have an office job doing data entry, and I totally understand not being allowed to use the internet or cell-phones when there's nothing to type--those things are super-distracting and hard to limit to just down-time. The other day, I brought one of my notebooks to work and was outlining (while refreshing the data feed very often), when my supervisor walked by (because there was nothing to do, so she was wandering) and told me I wasn't allowed to write.

Meanwhile, five of my coworkers were standing outside their cubicles, not checking the feed, chatting about the movies they'd gotten from Red Box. Don't get me wrong--that's a totally legit way to spend down-time, and I do not think any less of folks who prefer chatting--but I'm not that similar to most of my coworkers. I'm younger than everyone by five to ten years and we come from different backgrounds; we have different interests, priorities, lifestyles, and personalities. To be honest, I'm not good at small-talk. It takes a lot out of me and I feel awkward and disingenuous doing it.

In Scott Westerfeld's book "Leviathan", the character of Prince Alek finds himself shocked by how little the conversations of the people at market seem to matter when there's a war about to erupt. To that statement, the Count accompanying him replies with "Most people don't think past their dinner-plates." Alek's feelings resonated with me. The importance of conversations depend on our sphere of knowledge and influence, and unfortunately, mine is totally different from my coworkers'.

I suppose to the outside eye, working on something that isn't work-related appears to take energy away from the job I'm getting paid for. I would agree with that if A) there had been work I was avoiding in favor of the work I wanted to do, and/or B) water-cooler chatting was also considered unproductive. If I'm not talking to my coworkers during down-time, I'm meant to be either reading my manual (which I've entirely hilighted) or staring into oblivion, incessantly clicking the refresh button.

No, I'm not going to say it's unfair, because it IS fair: they're paying me for my time, so they get to say what I do and don't do with it. But to someone like me, it's excruciating. It feels like wasted time. I can think of at least 12 things I could be doing to make efficient use of that slow time.
That said, I feel totally comfortable making use of innocent-looking post-it notes.

Water Cooler: How do you use down-time at work? Does being idle bother you? Why or why not? How do you cram together all your activities? What do you think about workplace rules? Enforced idleness?

Photograph by D Sharon Pruitt